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‘Wandering’ minds not always a bad thing for children, says Tharman

SINGAPORE — Giving children the space and freedom for their minds to “wander” in their growing up years is important in Singapore’s efforts to create a social culture that encourages intellectual diversity and tolerates social diversity, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

‘Wandering’ minds not always a bad thing for children, says Tharman

(From left) Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, NUS president; Mr Wong Ngit Liong, chairman of NUS Board of Trustees; DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam; Mr S Dhanabalan, chairman of NUS Business School Management Advisory Board; Professor Bernard Yeung, dean of NUS Business School; and Professor Tan Eng Chye, NUS provost, toast during the NUS Business School 50th Anniversary Gala Dinner. Photo: Don Wong

SINGAPORE — Giving children the space and freedom for their minds to “wander” in their growing up years is important in Singapore’s efforts to create a social culture that encourages intellectual diversity and tolerates social diversity, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

This entails not having grading and competition “too early in the game”, or packing the curriculum for children, he added.

Mr Tharman, who is Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, made the point while addressing about 500 guests at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School’s 50th anniversary gala dinner at Shangri-La Hotel today (Oct 28). The guests included prominent business leaders, alumni and faculty members.

Noting that innovation and creativity are key ingredients for Singapore to keep ahead of the pack amid challenges in a changing environment,

he said small societies like Singapore can easily fall into groupthink. It is even more so when you succeed and do better than others, he added.

To overcome that, “we need, starting early in life, to breed that instinct of wanting to think ... in original ways”, said Mr Tharman.

Mr Tharman added that studies have shown that exposure to diverse experiences — be it through new hobbies, an overseas trip or mixing with people of different social backgrounds — can also shape one’s creativity. With social diversity, the environment is such that people do not anticipate consensus so easily and they test their assumptions more, he said.

“I never regretted the fact that I did a lot of daydreaming when I was young because it turns out to have been very useful,” he quipped. “We can’t overfill the curriculum for kids, we can’t keep them engaged continuously in specific tasks, we’ve got to have enough space for diverse experiences, for their minds to wander, and we’ve to provide that space as kids grow up.”

Turning to the challenges wrought by technological advances, Mr Tharman said there are divergent views on its impact — displace jobs or create new ones. Regardless of which view one takes, there needs to be a culture of lifelong learning, he added, which explains the SkillsFuture movement recently started by the Government.

The world of the future will require leaving behind old skills, refreshing existing skills, and “continual infusions” of new skills, such as knowledge of data analytics, robotics and digital marketing. This would allow the next generation of graduates to hold their own in a technology-rich workplace, said Mr Tharman.

He also warned against a situation where technology creates a divide between the digital natives from the older workers. Citing a scientific study that observed the brain sizes of London taxi drivers increased when faced with the task of memorising the city’s terrain but shrank once they retired,

Mr Tharman said Singapore should not overlook its mature workers.

“The brain is a very sophisticated animal ... we now know it can keep adapting through life, and we’ve got to make the most of its potential,”

he said.

To stay on top of the game, companies and businesses also need to rethink their old ways and work towards being more “fluid”, said Mr Tharman.

In a landscape where new businesses and upstarts are coming in, incumbent companies need to be more flexible and open to new models of innovation, he added. For example, DBS Bank pairs its staff with smaller start-ups in their hackathons. DBS also developed some 1,000 experiments and prototypes for the bank, he said.

Rounding up his speech, Mr Tharman said: “How do we have diversity whilst keeping a solid Singaporean core? How do we have that intellectual and social diversity but ensure our children still have that sense of fraternity as they grow up? That’s the challenge.”

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